The latest attempt to launch a European Male (Medium Altitude Long Endurance) UAV development was highlighted here yesterday when the chief executive officers of Alenia, Dassault and EADS Cassidian shook hands. The three companies said they “have a common view” on a joint program to meet “the security needs of our European governments and armed forces.”
This initiative follows shortly after France decided to buy two General Atomics Reaper UAS from the U.S. The UK and Italy already operate Reapers and the Dutch and German governments have also considered buying American. EADS has proposed a design named the Talarion as a Future European Male (Female) but stopped work on it 18 months ago after failing to secure government funding. Last year, the French and British governments drafted an agreement allowing Dassault to co-operate with BAE Systems on the latter’s Mantis design, which was re-christened Telemos. But the new French government failed to confirm the deal, saying it needed more time to consider the matter.
“It’s obvious that industry must co-operate,” said EADS Cassidian CEO Bernhard Gewert here yesterday. The European trio agree that a Female must be designed from the outset to meet emerging European requirement for UAS certification and operation in unsegregated airspace. Such a program would be “strongly competitive with the U.S.,” Gewert said.
The French and German air forces currently operate IAI Heron UAVs that have been adapted to national command, control and dissemination systems, respectively known as the Harfang and Saateg programs. Both countries have deployed them to fly over Afghanistan. The French government considered buying the enlarged Heron TP via a joint venture between IAI, Dassault and Thales. Paris described this as an interim solution pending development of a Female. Then came the flirtation with the British. But well-informed French industry sources told AIN that the French air force developed a preference for the Reaper some time ago.
After a recent visit to Washington, French defense minister Yves Le Drian said the country would quickly buy two Reaper systems to meet the urgent need for surveillance over Mali, following the French intervention there. Le Drian did not explain why the French air force could not make do with the two Harfangs that have been deployed already for this purpose. “They want to join the Reaper club, even though it will come with U.S. restrictions,” a French aerospace industry leader told AIN. The new initiative from Dassault, EADS and Alenia promises “European sovereignty and independence in the management of information of intelligence,” the prospective partners said.
Gewert said that EADS, Dassault and Alenia would decide who does what if and when a Female program is launched. He had also discussed the issue of program leadership with Dassault. The French company believes that someone has to be in charge and is pointing to the Neuron UCAV technology demonstrator program as a model. The French government is making the largest financial contribution to the Neuron, and Dassault is the prime contractor.
What about the British? “We are not aware that the U.K is asking for a European Male,” Gewertz said. That comment may be disputed in London. In the meantime, BAE Systems and Dassault continue to study a future unmanned combat air system, with Anglo-French government funding that was agreed last summer. That study is due to conclude later this year. Dassault CEO Eric Trappier said last Friday that the next stage could be a demonstration programs, if the two governments agree.